State Dep’t Denies Turning ‘Blind Eye’ to Iran’s Terror Sponsorship After Striking Iran Air From Sanctions List

Patrick Goodenough | June 23, 2016 | 4:25am EDT
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Secretary of State John Kerry headed the U.S. delegation at the nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, in March 2015. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, File)

( – State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday any suggestion that the administration would turn a blind eye to Iran's support for terrorism  in implementing the nuclear deal was “completely without merit.”

He was responding to questions about the decision, as part of the nuclear deal last year, to remove Iran Air from the U.S. sanctions list – even though the Iranian carrier was originally targeted for reasons of terrorism, not for suspect nuclear activities.

Administration officials repeatedly assured Congress and the American people that non-nuclear-related sanctions would remain in place once the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) went into effect.

Yet when it comes to Iran Air, an exception – or what the White House calls a “minor exception” – was made. Removing Iran Air from the sanctions list paved the way for a deal to buy aircraft from Boeing which Iranian officials say could involve more than 100 planes and be worth up to $25 billion.

Earlier this week Kirby said the State Department “welcomes” the Boeing deal, which he stressed was permitted under the JCPOA.

Five years ago today, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it was imposing sanctions on Iran Air, citing the use of its planes to transport “missile or rocket components” to Syria, “special” cargo relating to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and military equipment on behalf of Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL).

By that time, both the IRGC and MODAFL were themselves already designated entities under executive order 13382, which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems; while the IRGC-Qods Force had long been designated under executive order 13224 for providing material support to terrorist organizations.

Nonetheless, in the JCPOA the U.S. specifically committed itself (on page 12) to “allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran.”

At Wednesday’s daily press briefing, Kirby was asked about the decision to strike Iran Air from the sanctions list under the JCPOA despite the terror-related designation.

Matt Lee of the Associated Press recalled that the administration repeatedly had said that only nuclear-related sanctions would be lifted – that those imposed for terrorism and human rights abuses would remain in place.

(Graphic: White House)

“Can you point me to where the United States government has said that it no longer has any of these terrorism concerns as related to Iran Air?” he asked.

If not, he continued, “can you tell me how a Boeing sale to Iran is a positive thing that you said yesterday you would welcome, if, in fact, they are still – Iran Air is still being used to do all this nefarious activity?”

Kirby called it a “very technical question” and said he would seek more information.

But he pointed out that the JCPOA also makes it clear that if Iran Air uses U.S.-licensed civilian aircraft for non civilian end-user purposes, or resells or transfers them to U.S.-designated entities, then the U.S. government reserves the right to revoke the licenses.

(An annex to the agreement said the U.S. commits to licensing the “export, re-export, sale, lease or transfer to Iran of commercial passenger aircraft for exclusively civil aviation end-use,” along with spare parts, components and services. It stipulated that the licensed activities could not involve any U.S.-designated person, and that should any aircraft, goods, or services be re-sold or re-transferred to a U.S.-designated person, or not be used for exclusively civil aviation end-use, the U.S. would view that as grounds to end its commitments.)

“Any suggestion that in implementing the JCPOA that we would or will or turn a blind eye to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism or their terrorist-supporting activities, again, is completely without merit,” Kirby said.

Lee pointed out again that the sanctions on Iran Air were imposed for its support of the IRGC and terrorists.

“And as you noted, Iran Air was taken off that [sanctions] list,” Kirby said.

“But it didn’t do anything to get off the list,” Lee retorted.

Kirby indicated again that he would take the question and try to get further information.

‘Will remain in place under the Iran deal’

As the administration last summer and fall sought to win congressional support for the nuclear deal, it emphasized that non-nuclear-related sanctions would remain in force after the agreement went into effect.

“U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal,” a State Department fact sheet on the parameters of the deal stated unambiguously.

That was echoed in White House publicity material, with one document – touting “the historic deal that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon” – including a graphic listing sanctions that “will remain in place under the Iran deal.”

Among them: “Targeted sanctions on anyone connected to Iran’s support for terror.”

Another White House fact sheet touched on the exception for civilian airliners.

“[A] number of key sanctions will remain in place,” it stated, going on to explain that Iran “will continue to be denied access to the world’s largest financial and commercial market.”

“The JCPOA makes only minor allowances to this broad prohibition,” it said. “These include … the export on a case-by-case basis of commercial passenger aircraft and parts to Iran – which has one of the world’s worst aviation safety records – for civilian uses only.”

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